GUEST BLOG: Humbled, Disappointed and Motivated by the Poverty Simulation by Timothy Merkle

Chapter 1 – Humbled

Last week I participated in the Poverty Simulation run by Access of West Michigan. Along with 40-45 other Steelcase employees, we were 'cast' into poverty for an intense hour of role-playing as families of varying sizes, compositions, personal health, legal, and financial circumstances. As minutes represented weeks we faced the:

  • Desperation of not having enough money, food or time to care for our families and friends.
  • Vulnerability of reliance on businesses set-up for convenience with extreme costs.
  • Uncertainty of losing the electricity, heat, house or children.

Moving around town was not easy, planning the weeks was not simple given constraints on transportation with little or no flexibility as we attempted to satisfy our families financial, health and personal obligations – making ends meet.

The simulation, like life, showcased a demanding and unsympathetic cast of players who held control over our cash flow, employment, utility and other bills and healthcare. Furthermore, the transportation constraints that limited our mobility in accomplishing even the most basic necessities to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.


Chapter 2 – Disappointed

Much like grief, there was a period of shock-denial-anger as I found myself feeling unprepared for the realities that some endure day-to-day. We were so consumed by trying to make it to the bank, pick-up groceries, stop by the food pantry and pay the utility bills that we quickly forgot the rest of life. Three simple messages during the reflection time at the end of a simulated week cut right through me:

  • Did you take time to read to your children?
  • Did you talk to your children about their future?
  • Did you take time to entertain your child?

Answers: No, No, No.

The simulation did a great job to ground me in what is really “small stuff” or “first-world” problems in my own life. The problem is that the entire poverty simulation was based on First-World inhabitants! So, I find myself very disappointed I do not do more to help within our community.


Chapter 3 – Motivated

The most profound moments were the stories at the end of the simulation. Hearing the stories of emotional and physical pain, heavy losses, and redemption. The honesty and openness on the challenge and perseverance were inspiring. So, how can I [we] help fight back poverty within the local community?

There are many avenues and I encourage you to rally behind one that can help bring relief to those who are struggling in our communities. Please also consider supporting the 2017 Steelcase United Way Campaign. We are working closely with the Steelcase and United Way Leadership to ensure not only do our donations of time and money provide local support to help those who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (A.L.I.C.E) but also that we amplify the generous contributions our employees pledge with support from the Steelcase Foundation.

Posted by Timothy Merkle on Apr 21, 2017

Timothy Merkle is the Group Manager of Advanced Analytics at Steelcase, sits on the Steelcase Campaign Core Team, and is a member of Heart of West Michigan United Way's Leadership Circle